Mesa Police Chief George Gascón unveiled more of his plan Thursday to minimize civil unrest when and if Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio brings his anti-immigration sweeps into the city.
Cooperation or clash between Arpaio, Gascόn�
The strategy includes asking for the help of clergy and the legal community.
Gascón wrote in a memo to his department Thursday that a group of about 15 pro-Arpaio protesters held demonstrations in Mesa Thursday near Gilbert and Broadway roads. One protester yelled out a racial slur at a black man and another brought along a pit bull that snapped at police officers.
“This incident, as well as others during prior sweeps are clear indications of the volatility that can be visited upon our city as these events continue to unfold,” Gascón wrote.
The memo said police intend to videotape the events and request the help of the legal community and local clergy to serve as mediators in the crowds.
Gascón acknowledged the constitutional rights of the community to share their political views through demonstrations, but also wrote that Mesa police have a responsibility to make sure residents and police officers are safe.
Gascón has recently mandated departmentwide uniform and equipment inspections as part of his plan.
Sgt. Fabian Cota, president of the Mesa Police Association, one of the department’s two unions, said his members were at first confused about why they had to get all their equipment suddenly inspected, but quickly understood after reading Gascon’s memo.
“I think it lends a lot to the fact of how serious the department is taking it, that the potential for violence is there,” Cota said. “You have an issue that is emotionally charged, you have factions of groups showing up, some of them armed. ... You have racial overtures in there. That’s all the ingredients for civil unrest.”
Rabbi Maynard Bell, who hadn’t yet heard Thursday that Gascón was seeking the help of religious leaders, said the sweeps “may technically be legal,” but questioned whether everyone is aware of their human impact.
Bell, executive director of the Phoenix Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, joined six other Valley religious leaders representing major faiths in a statement Thursday urging Arpaio to reconsider the “wisdom and morality” of his sweeps.
Arpaio still hasn’t announced when he plans to conduct a sweep in Mesa, but has said he plans to notify Gascón and work with his agency.
Arpaio said Wednesday he has received more than 800 letters, many from Mesa residents, asking him to arrest illegal immigrants in their city.
Also, state Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, and other legislators invited deputies to come to the East Valley.
More than a week ago, Arpaio set up his command center at the southeast facility of Maricopa County Jail, located at Mesa Drive south of U.S. 60, as he geared up to conduct recent sweeps for illegal immigrants in Guadalupe.
That sweep drew protesters, but Arpaio said no violence occurred.
Gascón said in his memo that counter-demonstrators have been observed carrying firearms and that tensions are escalating.
He reminded his officers to “stand ready to protect our community.”